072220_MNS_AJFF_Flawless Noam Lugasy Stav Strashko Netsanet Mekonen

From left, Noam Lugasy, Stav Strashko and Netsanet Mekonen act out a scene in “Flawless.”

The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival will tap into transgender topics when it hosts its monthly In Conversation free webinar July 26.

In Conversation is a free series of two events: a podcast and a webinar. The webinars are talks and Q&As with actors, writers and directors regarding their films. In the July 26 event, which starts at noon, actresses Noam Lugasy, Netsanet Mekonen and Stav Strashko will talk about the 2018 Israeli film “Flawless” (titled “HaNeshef” in Hebrew).

"Flawless" is about three teenage girls from Jerusalem who sell their kidneys to pay for cosmetic surgery and prom dresses. Strashko was nominated for Best Actress by both the Israeli Film Academy (Ophir Award), that country’s version of the Oscar, for her role in the movie, which was an audience favorite when shown during this year’s festival in February.

Ukrainian-born Strashko, who was assigned male at birth, was raised in Israel since age 2 and identifies as female. She worked as a model for 10 years before also becoming an actress. Strashko was not available for an interview with the Neighbor, but in an interview with the website U Interview that was posted to YouTube, she talked about the movie.

In “Flawless” she plays a teenager who transfers to a new school after being bullied at her previous school for being transgender.

“When I read the script, I started crying a little bit and tearing ’cause, for me this subject is really important and really brings leading transgender role and gives it depth and lets the viewer identify and see the problems I’m dealing with at school and at home,” Strashko said. “The father in the movie is not super supportive of the transition."

She continued, "...I think it gives people a good angle of what transgender young people are going through sometimes and what happens when it gets to an extreme point, which happens in the movie.”

The festival prides itself on offering films and programming that celebrate diversity, including previous films that focus on social justice and racial equality, in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, said Kenny Blank, its executive director. The latest In Conversation continues that mission.

“We’ve always stressed diversity,” Blank said. “’Flawless’ is certainly an example of that.”

When the festival shifted its monthly programs from an in-person format to a virtual one due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it provided opportunities for actors, writers and directors from around the world to participate in events they normally may not be able to because of schedule and travel issues.

“This film takes things in a whole different direction, and it treats these topics in not a formulaic way but a very topical way,” Blank said.

He added the online programs have allowed other actors, such as Oscar nominee Jesse Eisenberg, who spoke with writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz talking about their film, “Resistance,” at the April 16 webinar.

“For somebody like Jesse Eisenberg to join in for his film, it just creates all kinds of opportunities for bringing unique and interesting actors and directors into our orbit,” Blank said.

He said the webinars have attracted between 100 and 400 viewers, with the May 14 one about the Netflix series "Unorthodox” drawing the largest crowd. Blank added about 10% of the webinars’ viewers are from outside metro Atlanta.

“Virtual also lends itself to attract whole new audiences who may not have participated in our programs before, including people from all over the country,” he said.

For each webinar, the festival’s website offers individuals a chance to watch the film being discussed prior to the event. As part of its online programming, the festival also offers AJFF Playback, a weekly bracketed contest, similar to the NCAA basketball tournament, where viewers can vote on their favorite films from this year’s festival.

In August the festival will launch a third online program, AJFF Recommends, where viewers can use its website to search for and watch all films shown in festival’s 20-year history. Individuals can search for movies based on country of origin, genre or subject matter.

“That’s something audiences have asked for, (saying) ‘Hey, I missed this film at your last festival and would like to see it,” Blank said. “I hope some of these online programs live on past the pandemic. These virtual programs fill a unique space and create great conversations around film and provide better access for some audiences, especially younger ones.”

For more information on the festival, to watch “Flawless” or to register for the webinar, visit www.ajff.org.

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